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Bogo struggles with 'next step'

D-man's development in slow lane

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He's good, but could be better. And he hasn't been as good this season as he has in seasons past.

That was Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel's assessment on Friday of Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian, who -- like the rest of his team generally -- has struggled this year to take the elusive "next step" necessary to compete with the NHL's elite.

"I think this year he's played OK -- I don't think it's been his best year so far," Noel said of Bogosian, who is in his sixth season in the NHL.

"I think Zach can play better. But am I happy with his development? Yes, I am. And you work together to try to bring him where you see his A-game consistently. I think we've seen quite a bit of that -- not always this year -- but we've seen quite a bit of that over the course of time.

"So I see what he can be and what he can become. And that's what we try and strive for."

Indeed, the Jets have staked their future on it, committing last summer to Bogosian through the 2019-20 season, another six seasons at $5.1 million a year after this one -- the longest contract deal for any current Jets player.

But then big things always were expected of Bogosian. His former employer, the Atlanta Thrashers, used the third overall pick of the 2008 NHL entry draft to select him in a draft that was full of blue-chip defencemen. Bogosian was drafted one pick behind Los Angeles Kings blue-liner Drew Doughty and one pick ahead of St. Louis's Alex Pietrangelo, while Ottawa's Erik Karlsson -- yet another blue-chip blue-liner -- went 15th overall that year.

That's some very elite company -- Doughty and Pietrangelo will both represent Canada next month in Sochi, while Karlsson will play for Sweden -- and it's partly why the Jets brain trust and their fans want to see more out of Bogosian.

But that's also an unfair comparison, says Jets assistant coach Charlie Huddy, an elite former NHL defenceman in his own right who has tutored Bogosian the past two-plus seasons.

"There's a lot of things that go into it and I don't think that it's fair to say he hasn't developed as quickly as another guy," says Huddy. "It's the situation you're put in, you know. They had some tough years in Atlanta and as a young guy, that probably wasn't great for Zach's confidence. When you're losing a lot and you're still trying to figure the game out, that's a tough thing to go through.

"Other guys get in a good spot, get on a good team with some veteran guys who can help you along and sure, they maybe come a long a little quicker."

Bogosian has also been dogged by injuries and illness the past few seasons, missing 15 games of a strike-shortened season last season and then another 16 games this season with a groin injury followed by a severe flu.

His offensive numbers have suffered -- he's got just one goal and five assists in 30 games this season -- but he's also a respectable plus-5 and is certainly not the most urgent problem on a troubled Jets team with much more pressing concerns right now.

Still, Bogosian is in agreement with his head coach -- he could certainly be better. "Injuries, being sick -- it hasn't really been my year," Bogosian said Friday following practice at the MTS Centre. "I'm just trying to stay positive and be a good teammate -- that stuff will never change. And hopefully, I will get a bit of luck on my side. It's been a bit of a different year for me.

"Any time you go through injuries, it's tough physically and mentally... I think I've just had some bad luck -- I don't think I'm fragile. I just think it's probably the way I play, I give it 110 (per cent) all the time and sometimes those things happen."

While he's in his sixth season, Bogosian is also just 23-years-old and playing a position at which players generally mature later, rather than sooner. Bogosian says, like Huddy, the fact some other members of his draft class have developed more quickly is immaterial to the potential he's still hoping to unlock.

"I try to come to the rink every day and be the best player I can be. I don't worry about what anyone else is doing. To be honest with you, I don't pay too much attention to that stuff.

"All I'm trying to do is come to the rink every day and get better."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Draft pick hints at greatness to come

Zach Bogosian of the Winnipeg Jets was one of four defenceman taken in succession with the second through fifth overall picks of the 2008 NHL entry draft (some forward named Steven Stamkos was taken with the first overall pick that year).

Here's the career NHL statistics of each of those defencemen (ranked by the order they were drafted):

Player Pick Team Position Minor team GP GA Pts PIM
Drew Doughty 2 Los Angeles D Guelph Storm (OHL) 409 55 152207 327
Zach Bogosian 3 Atlanta D Peterborough Petes (OHL) 327 35 74109 266
Alex Pietrangelo 4 St. Louis D Niagara IceDogs (OHL) 267 35 11715 283
Luke Schenn 5 Toronto D Kelowna Rockets (WHL) 398 20 7292 278

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2014 C2

History

Updated on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 11:00 AM CST: adds table

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